Regina King won a Golden Globe for her work in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” but she’s not the only reason to see the film.
Based on a 1974 James Baldwin novel, the drama gives plenty of solid actors gritty roles as they tell the story of a young couple trying to deal with a false rape charge.
Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) wasn’t even near the scene of the crime when a Puerto Rican woman was assaulted. Yet he was thrown in prison and left to wonder what might happen to his girlfriend, Tish (KiKi Layne), and the child they’re expecting.
Tish narrates the story and, in the process, becomes an unyielding force, trying to get the charges overturned. Director Barry Jenkins puts plenty of obstacles in the way (not the least among them: religious parents) and shows how they deal, even in the face of setbacks.
When King turns up as Tish’s mother, Sharon, the acting Olympics begin. She helps break the news to others, including Fonny’s uptight mom and sisters, and helps pull performances out of others that are equally award-worthy.
How King finesses the discussion (and wins) explains why she’s in the Oscar hunt. She has several moving moments and a trip to Puerto Rico that could effect the change everyone wants.
There, while trying to find the woman who made the accusation, she learns the truth about the case and the kind of future the young family could face.
Jenkins uses music and lighting to good effect, but soars on Layne’s narration. She’s not forcing emotions, she’s merely telling a story.
While she and James are a likable couple, they don’t get the moments that bubble. Instead, that’s left to others – like Brian Tyree Henry, who plays a friend with his own baggage. When Fonny and Henry’s Daniel talk, we listen.
Borrowing techniques from his last film, “Moonlight,” Jenkins knows a lingering camera can do more good than three pages of dialogue. When we discover the couple’s fate, “Beale Street” brings home plenty of issues – many of them still relevant today.
Watch King, though, and you’ll get a lesson in stellar screen acting. She’s worth all the gold Hollywood bestows.